The Baltimore Bandits, performing in their first regular-season game as a franchise before an enthusiastic outpouring of 7,293 fans at the Baltimore Arena, were reminded of one of the basic tenets of the sport of hockey and Yogi Berra: The game is never over 'til it's over.
The result was a 3-1 loss Friday night to the Carolina Monarchs, also a fledgling team in the American Hockey League. Sent off to a lead in the first three minutes of action when Pete Leboutillier became an answer to a future trivia question -- Who scored the first goal ever for the Bandits? -- the Baltimore team seemed to be lulled into a false sense of security.
"Frustration," coach Walt Kyle called it.
The Bandits dominated play through the first 35 minutes of action, putting nearly twice as many quality shots on the Carolina goal, but it still amounted to just a one-goal lead.
Late in the second period, with the teams skating 4-on-4, Brad Smyth evened things up for the Monarchs. Then, between the sixth and eighth minutes of the third period, Bob Boughner and Smyth again scored and the Bandits were left to ponder why they hadn't been rewarded by their early superiority.
"We went from absolute control over the first half of the game to a team that started taking penalties and became frustrated," said Kyle. "Just as bad was a couple of our guys taking tens [10-minute misconduct penalties]. That causes you to run a short bench and we became fatigued. We were a completely different team in the third period."
Meanwhile, Monarchs coach Rich Kromm looked the part of a guy who had just won the lottery. It was understandable. He's a young coach (31) with a young team playing its first game ever.
"We were together for about a week," said Kromm, "and we had a game in Binghamton that gave indication that we were coming together fairly quickly. Though we lost in overtime, we started slowly and [goalie] Kevin Weekes kept us in it, just like tonight."
Following a spirited and fast-paced opening few minutes, the teams bogged down to a close-checking, somewhat dreary display of senseless penalties and ineffective offensive attempts.
If it had not been for the reactions and technique of rookie goalie Weekes for Carolina, the Bandits could have salted the game by the end of the second period.
After a pair of foiled opportunities in the first 90 seconds, Leboutillier got the first goal in Bandits history at the end of a quick-exchange foray from mid-ice that involved everyone in the forward line.
Center J. F. Jomphe ended up with the puck within 20 feet of the goal, drew a defenseman, then dealt it left to Alex Hicks. When Weekes moved toward Hicks, the puck was on the way across the goal mouth to Leboutillier, who converted gingerly.
Less than three minutes into existence, the Bandits had the Arena crowd in an uproar reminiscent of the successful days of their forerunners in the AHL, the Clippers and Skipjacks.
Besides applying steady pressure on the very youthful Monarchs -- half their players competed in junior hockey last year -- Baltimore showed a solid, quick defense, especially in penalty-killing situations.
That changed in the late going, however. "Carolina was the one which remained patient and we started making the mistakes," Kyle said. "They had veterans back on defense and they kept the team together."
Shortly after taking the lead, the Bandits were two men short for a minute and Carolina wasn't even able to pose a serious threat to Bandits goalie Mike O'Neill.
In the last 25 minutes, though, that changed.
"The goals against O'Neill were 3OK," said Kyle. "What wasn't OK was the penalties that put them on the power play."
NOTES: After the first period, while proceeding to the rink to clean the ice, the Zamboni machine clipped the side of an auxiliary stand in front of the stage. One person complained of injuries and was transported to a hospital for treatment.